Is this just another word? A conversation about learning disability and ableism

Gary Bourlet, Sandra Fortuna, Mark Haydon-Laurelut, Nina Viljoen

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


The authors of this article are Gary, an expert by experience, working in self advocacy, and Sandra, Mark and Nina who are working in learning disability and autism services. We are all interested in social justice and particularly where ideas of ability and disability work to exclude people. We came together to facilitate a workshop for systemic professionals on ableism and disablism at Friends of KCC on 17 November 2021. Our workshop was called Re-thinking Ability. In the process of planning the workshop our ideas grew from conversations about the systemic work we each do in learning disability services. We questioned our own and each other’s ideas. Sandra, Mark and Nina wanted to work as ‘allies’ where we contribute to “making a space in which the person who
is subjected to power gets their voice heard and listened to” (Reynolds, 2013, p. 56). We invited Gary to join us in the workshop. We created a reflexive space that allowed us to rethink our own ideas about being abled and disabled and how this affected our relationships and our work. A conversation started about ableism that we would like to continue here. Ableism can be defined as: “The oppression that arises from seeing and creating our experience of the world and humanity only through a nonimpaired perspective. A certain kind of self or person is held to be normative. Those who do not meet this norm are viewed as a diminished form of the human” (Jones & Haydon-Laurelut, 2019, p. 298). For a conversation to be a dialogue it must move between people but also invite those listening to ‘think with’ so to ‘expand knowing’. When in conversation there is the telling, listening and retelling. However, we know that not all telling is the same, some voices are silenced or given little space or importance. In this article, we hoped to give voice to those affected by ableism by moving between ideas shared between Gary, Anna and Nina, subsequently Sandra and Mark reflected on this conversation and Gary, Anna and Nina responded with their reflections. To start the conversation we spoke with Gary, a person who may be affected by ‘ableism’. What were his thoughts about ableism?
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Specialist publicationContext: The Magazine for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


  • learning disability
  • systemic
  • ableism
  • psychology
  • therapy

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